Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Women Want From Men

A couple of weeks ago, Magic Mike some how came up over drinks with my token, straight guy friends. I explained two things:
1) That sorry excuse for a movie pandered far more to the fulfillment of male fantasies than women's. It's a movie about men getting what they want, written and directed by men.
2) When you're raised into adulthood in the gay community in San Francisco, ├╝ber attractive, muscular, naked guys are a dime a dozen.

...but countless women (and gay men) loved it! And that's fine. Maybe I'm a grumpy feminist with no interest in a film based loosely on Channing Tatum's time as a teenage stripper in Tampa. Maybe I've just seen too many perfectly chiseled bare derrieres in person to be moved by seeing them on screen. There's no lack of appreciation for the male form here. Men's bodies possess a strength, grace and power that I adore. The sentiment underlying this is: "You're hot. So what? What else do you have to offer?"

Physical attractiveness is the deal maker for some women, though. Thus we once again see the problem with sweepingly deciding anything about a large group of people based on the needs and opinions of a non-representative sample. Magic Mike was not a movie made for a lady like me. But neither was The Notebook, which one of my token straights insisted I must love because I'm a Ryan Gosling fan. Nope. Too sappy, too poorly written. That Nicholas Sparks guy is the worst. Now, Lars and the Real Girl, there's a unique, nuanced, interesting story worth watching. Man falls in love with Rachel McAdams? Eh... Man falls in love with a sex doll? Yes! How delightfully quirky!

There are billions of women on the planet, gents. What do they want from you? A lot of disparate and possibly conflicting things...and possibly nothing at all. There will never be a neat and tidy list that accurately encompasses the needs and desires of every woman. If you fancy a lady you're just going to have to, oh gosh, I don't know, ask her questions about herself and listen to get to know what she's about. It's called communicating. Get into it.

The neat and tidy list of needs and desires is so attractive, though, because then you could just jump into checking things off, right? Something I appreciate about the men in my life is their ability to single mindedly solve a problem or handle a task. I need these boxes moved into that truck, and BAM! It's done. But your relationship is not a problem to be solved, or as Osho would say, it's not "a business to be managed, it's a mystery to be lived." Women are mysterious creatures and life is a mysterious venture. Maintaining a sense of mastery and control is alluring, but it's always illusory. Your woman is changing all the time, just like your life and you have to let both of those things grow and evolve so you can, too.

As a grumpy feminist, I see the ways in which men are granted privilege in our culture, but men are also severely short changed in some ways. As boys, men tend to receive a more rough, brusque quality of love that doesn't prepare them well for giving and receiving gentleness and compassion. Men are also generally taught an emotional vocabulary that is limited largely to happy and angry. Being able to get what we really need in life depends on the ability to express a full, complex range of feelings. And just as men could become more adept at communicating their needs and desires, so could women. Men shouldn't be expected to "just know" what their partners want. We could all stand to communicate with greater frequency and efficacy. No one is masterful at everything always. Men should not expect themselves to be, and their partners shouldn't expect that either. It's so much unnecessary pressure. Men should just be able to be good at what they're good at, and be encouraged to ask for help with everything else. I think this would make for happier men, and happier, healthier relationships overall.

If you're one of those sad guys convinced that every woman is just some __________, ___________, ___________ who's only after you for your ______________, you might want to consider the caliber of women you're choosing...and again, keep in mind how ridiculous it is to claim to know the character of billions of people because you've had some unsatisfactory dating experiences. Stop it. So you got hurt. So it was disappointing. Find a way to let that go and move on. I know we don't live in a culture that encourages you to express feelings, but you're a grown ass man and it's your job to take care of your emotional life. You can learn how.

Sometimes some women do choose to embody those negative things you might attribute to all of us. Don't date those women, and certainly don't marry them. In the same way that women ought to consider why they are attracted to inappropriate men, you ought to consider why you keep finding yourself attracted to women with whom you can't deeply connect. Perhaps you don't really want to be in a relationship at all or are terrified of intimacy. Regardless, you deserve a romantic partner that is, minimally, kind and respectful to you. You can decide whatever else it is that you need and desire.

Every woman decides for herself what's sexy and attractive and necessary in a man. You want to know what she wants? You're going to have to ask. If it turns out it's not what you have to offer, relax. The lady is not a bad person for not wanting anything from you. You are not a failure for not being what she wants. No matter what a catch you are, not everyone is going to be into your deal. And would you want to be with someone who doesn't see you clearly and love you completely? Should you change yourself to fit into their needs and desires? No...the answer is no.

What have we learned here today? No one can tell you what women want because women are humans and humans are wildly complex and diverse (especially human women). Don't worry about being what someone else wants. If you're unhappy on your own, being in a relationship won't make you happy. Work on being the best possible you, someone you would want to be with. Live a life you love. Find and shine your own light. In closing, a wise soundbite from Osho on this very topic:

"Nobody, whether it's your current mate or some dreamed-of partner in the future, has any obligation to deliver your happiness on a platter--nor could they even if they wanted to. Real love comes not from trying to solve our neediness by depending on another, but by developing our own inner richness and maturity. Then we have so much love to give that we naturally draw lovers towards us."

((Much of this could easily be applied for women in relationship to men, men in relationship to men, women in relationship to women...))

Sunday, November 17, 2013

To Be Mastered

"You surrender to a lot of things which are not worthy of you. I wish you would surrender to your radiance...your integrity...your beautiful human grace."
-Yogi Bhajan

Being in the healing business makes one the recipient of a lot of stories and secrets. They vary in tone and content from heartbreaking to heartwarming, triumphant to shame-filled, sacred to irreverent. My favorite stories are those of the healing journey, hearing about and sometimes having the privilege to watch people transforming. I had the joy of bearing witness in such a manner recently, after Donna Quesada's ever gorgeous class at Yoga West. An older gentleman approached me to ask some questions about my practice and tell me his story of a decades long battle with alcoholism. He had been in and out of many types of programs over the years, but shared, with tears in his eyes, that after three days in yoga he had finally found something that made him feel different, that he felt would actually help him. He talked candidly about how afraid he was to lose this feeling and asked how to proceed. We chanted the AA mantra, "Keep coming back. It works if you work it," together, smiling, and then I recalled the above quote from Yogi Bhajan.

The good news is you already know how to surrender, I told him. You spent years of your life surrendered to this substance. You have recognized that your life has become unmanageable, that alcohol has mastered you, and you sincerely wish to change your experience.

Now comes the easier-said-than-done process of giving yourself over, body, mind and soul, to your Highest Good. This will change you, sometimes in ways that are most uncomfortable. There will come a time when you want to slip back into the safe familiarity of the skin you're shedding right now, but it will never be the same. You will be too expansive, too free, and your old ways of being won't soothe you as they once did.

You will be humbled before the disorienting task of learning How To Be all over again. You might stumble like a weak kneed fawn. It might get weird. When you change fundamentally, you stop playing the role you always have and then no one knows what to do with you. You may be met with frustration or distrust while you're making this shift. There may be some people who will cut you out, or who you will have to cut out. There is often a price to pay for following our sacred heart, but it is never too high. It will always be worth it in order to live our truth, to do what is healthy and life giving.


My own healing path has been strange and fun and uncomfortable and full of backsliding. I used to teach yoga then bounce off to happy hour. I have spent quite a bit of time in AA and Al-Anon, in individual therapy, in healing circles, in acupuncture, in church...but none of it really made me feel different until I became very vibrantly, thoroughly alive through the practice of yoga, specifically, Kundalini. It activated in me an undeniable awareness of my truest self and what was aligned with my Highest Good. In my inexhaustible desire for The Truth, I took the red pill and true to form, there was no going back.

Such is the harrowing aspect of surrender. We don't consider this when we're slipping addiction on. No one thinks, "Oh yeah baby, I'm going to tie on a massive opiate addiction! I'm going to surrender myself completely to this horrible beast! By the time I really let go, I'll be so skinny and unwashed, no one will recognize me!" This happens incrementally. The addict's freedom is slowly chipped away by the dis-ease of addiction until they have a moment of awareness that they've come much further than they ever intended. Sometimes several of these moments have to compound before a person begins to think that it may be time to reevaluate. We go far deeper than we intended because we think we can control the substance. But it is us who is under control.

Surrendering to our radiance, integrity and grace, as Yogi Bhajan suggested, inspires more awareness. We don't consider what might become of us as we wade into addiction, but the outset of revolutionary, positive personal change seems to come with a deep knowing that aggravates the ego something fierce. Cue the ability to suddenly do absolutely anything other than the new habit you're trying to establish. "I was going to meditate but I've suddenly been inspired to pick ALL the lint out of the rug...and make a souffle!"

There is a fear that in the silence and clarity, we will have to face ourselves honestly. And fair enough, because it's true. Everything you've been knowingly avoiding and things you aren't even aware of yet are waiting for you, to be seen, to be felt, to be healed up. Embarking on the healing journey is an act of incredible courage. We decide to walk willingly into the darkness and engage with whatever we find there. It will strip you of some important things you thought you knew about yourself, revealing deeper, truer truths. It will change how you react to and interact with the flow of your life. It will take you places you never thought possible. It will break you...and put you back together again, better, stronger, happier.

What would you like be mastered by? I was once mastered by unhealthy habits and patterns. Despite deep fear and resistance, I chose to sit still, close my eyes and breathe slow. I'm not perfect. I'm not a master of anything yet, but I am slowly surrendering, allowing myself to be mastered by the dawning remembrance of who I really am and alignment with what is best for me.

We have the ability to choose what to surrender to and be mastered by. You will be changed by becoming absorbed in something bigger than you. Being mastered will make you a stranger to yourself and others for a time. With as much consciousness as possible, choose to be mastered by what will give you the most space and freedom, inspire the most joy and be in truest alignment with your Highest Good.

Surrender to a version of yourself who you don't even know yet, who the people that love you know under the noise of all your chaos.
Be mastered by your body's irrepressible desire to thrive.
Become absorbed in that which will elevate you beyond all your illusory limits.
This is your life.
This is your time.
Be brave.
Choose well.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love Story.

Spoiler alert! This won't end well.
Baz Luhrmann ruined my love life. Or rather, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet did. This fabulously flashy spectacle came out when I was a very impressionable adolescent with a preexisting drama condition. I had already read the play and loved the story, but dreamy LeoDiCap and sweet, lovely Claire Danes sealed the deal: If it's not tragic, intense and consuming, it's not real love. (Don't even get me started on Titanic...)

We harbor all kinds of ideas about love and life from stories but none of these are derived more powerfully or importantly than from the way we were raised and our experiences along the way. The way we are loved and the quality of love we witness as we grow up teach what to view and accept as love. This writes our story of love and informs our ability to live openhearted, be intimate, and desire and maintain healthy relationships.

What's your Love Story?
Is it a tragedy? Is it a drama? Is it fraught with conflict? Does it hurt?
Is it a comedy? Does it make you laugh? Is it energizing and uplifting?
Is it a documentary? Does it offer valuable lessons? Is it inspiring?

What sort of love did you receive growing up? What did that teach you to believe about your worth?
What sort of love did you witness growing up? What did that teach you to expect and give in your relationships?

Opinions of love span the gamut from "love is all you need" to "love is a battlefield" and at varying times both may be true. But perhaps coming at our relationships as if they are war zones isn't the healthiest approach. What if love wasn't tumultuous or violent, burdensome or shaming, tragic, dramatic or consuming? What if it wasn't a game or a war where there are competitors, and winners and losers? There is conflict inherent at some point in all human relationships, but with compassion, respect and open communication, these moments can transform the relationship and the people in it, creating a deeper understanding, more love, respect and growth.

Life has enough naturally occurring difficulty that we don't need to burden ourselves with weighty, unsupportive relationships. If our Love Story tells us that this quality of relationship is Real Love, it may be time to reevaluate. I've long feared the boredom I perceive to be lurking in the stability and calm of a healthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships have become just as unsatisfying as I imagine it may be boring to be happy, though. What if happy was slanderously rebranded as boring? And what if people with addictions to suffering rebranded it so everyone would remain just as miserable as them? "Oh no, haven't you heard? Happiness is boring now. Dissatisfaction is the new black."

If your Love Story swings from agony to ecstasy, consider how nice it may be to spend more time somewhere in the middle, in the "boring" hum of happiness and consistency. Conflict will arise (it's even healthy if handled well!), but if the relationship isn't life giving and affirming the majority of the time, what are you doing? All our relationships, romantic or otherwise, should be inspiring and uplifting, challenge us to grow beyond our limits and nurture our passions. If a relationship becomes consistently unsupportive, unloving or ever becomes abusive in any way, leaving should be at the top of the to do list. No one likes letting go, but honestly, what are you holding on to? Life being a struggle from cradle to grave is a story to be disbelieved. Happiness is our birthright.

Let your love be an offering, a sharing, a partner puzzle, an inspiration, a party, the right kind of touch, a perfectly ripe persimmon, a secret smile, a gentle confrontation, an intimate whisper.
Let your love light up the life of your beloved.
This Big Love, given and received gracefully.
It's what we all deserve.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Just Right, Right Now
"I approve. I approve. You can do what you do. I approve of you." -Charlie Getter

Sometimes I accuse myself of being lazy. Then I find myself deep into a project, without thought of eating or sleeping, and I realize that there's a difference between being lazy and being unmotivated. When it comes to the things that inspire my passionate focus, I am a tireless, dedicated perfectionist. My standards are exacting and occasionally unrealistic. There's some control neurosis wrapped up in that, but it's moreso due to a desire to make the world a perfectly, ideally beautiful place. Why settle for anything that's not exactly right? Work until your fingers bleed, until you fall over out of sheer exhaustion.

There's nowhere that these rigorous requirements are enforced more stringently than inside my own head and heart. For someone who works helping people to breathe, heal and feel good, I am not especially nice to myself. I know I'm not alone in this. The idea of being ones own toughest critic far predates me. I suppose the harshness is a sort of insulation against criticism. If I thoroughly point out how flawed I am, I beat everyone else to it. "Yeah whatever I already know that about myself!" That seems healthy...

Recently, I began to notice the effects of this fascist rule over myself in my yoga practice. I have been participating in these online challenges, posting daily video and photos of assigned poses. It's been a wondrous and expansive exploration of my capabilities and limits. I've gained new skills and confidence, and made friends with a really sweet mama yogi in Sweden. The dark side of this was watching all the joy get sucked out of something that I love by my monstrous need to be perfect. It was only after I pulled a rib out of alignment that I had some (mandatory) space and stillness to fully feel how painful it can be to treat ourselves so militantly.

One of my favorite wise sound bites from a teacher of mine is: "Space and freedom through stability and discipline." Sweat and focus are a kind of alchemy that transform our efforts to pure gold. Hard work is a good and right thing, but we have to be easy about it. There is a balance point there, one we will always be playing with because the demands of our lives change all the time. Very few beings exist in a perfect state of balance and peace, and that's okay because we're not perfect and we never will be. We will have moments of utter perfection, only to teeter again on our axis. And that's okay! I came across this quote a few days ago that touches on this exploration of (unconditional) self-love:

"Dear Human: You've got it all wrong. You didn't come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return. You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of… messing up. Often. You didn't come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And then to rise again into remembering. But unconditional love? Stop telling that story. Love, in truth, doesn't need ANY other adjectives. It doesn't require modifiers. It doesn't require the condition of perfection. It only asks that you show up. And do your best. That you stay present and feel fully. That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU. It’s enough. It’s Plenty." -Courtney A. Walsh

The pillars holding up our capitalist society as it exists are the truth that we are imperfect, and the lies that we need to be perfect and that someone can sell you something which will make that possible. When you weigh this much or own this car then, THEN you will be perfect! It's all possible...for a price. Even self-help gurus peddle this shrill, tired rhetoric. When you read my book and recite these mantras then, THEN you will be perfect!

Even I, who love self-exploration and -improvement, am reaching a point where the impulse is to take a step back and simply admire what is just right, right now. [[I could be more consistently grateful. I could spend less time on the internet. I could have a stronger home practice.]] I spend a lot of time thinking things like this, striving to be the best possible version of myself, to find that space and freedom through my stability and discipline. But dang, lady, when will it ever be enough? When will I ever be enough? What will it take?

It's a sad thing to think that we could go our whole lives never experiencing our own unconditional approval and love. This constant dissatisfaction drives many to "success," but can you actually enjoy that success if you never feel like what you've done is good enough?

What I propose is what I will always propose: a softening and a surrender.
Soften to your own weaknesses, fears and ugliness. The only way to ever really get better is to shine a light into your dark places. Pack a picnic. Bring your curiosity, compassion and courage. Maybe bring a good friend or therapist. Illuminate and give expression to everything inside you that you've smothered for so long, that will eventually make you small, hard, angry or drive you mad.

Surrender to unconditional self-approval. Let it wash over you like a wave. Let it take you in like a warm embrace. You can love yourself really well and still strive for greatness. In fact, I'd wager that achieving great things will be all the more satisfying if you can celebrate and approve of your success. I'll even go so far as to say that it's not really success if you can't celebrate it. If you are not enjoying the journey of your life, what are you doing? When you look in the mirror ask the question, "Do you love me?" and begin to answer Yes! wholeheartedly, every single time, no matter what.

We're trained to seek and need external approval from very early on. It's a kind of survival necessity. As we grow, hopefully we begin to learn the song of our hearts, developing the confidence to trust and sing this sacred truth loud and clear. This authentic confidence can only come from a deep, internal well of self-approval. It gives us the strength to say what needs to be said, even if it's unpopular. So much of my life has been difficultly defined by a hungry search for external approval. It is only now that I see that I was begging, manipulating, compromising and waiting for something that no one else could ever give me. What a tremendous waste of time! 

This is my commitment to give myself the sort of love and approval I've always wanted. No more waiting. There are far too many truths to speak and risks to take, far too much messy, gloriously beautiful and imperfect human experience to miss. I approve. I celebrate. You and I. Right now.